The international break is finally over, and Saturday presents a good opportunity to right the wrongs from the last outing at West Brom. Despite performing well in the first half against the Baggies, all that work became completely irrelevant with the dismal showing after the interval. That began with Sam Walker misjudgment, coupled with Gunter and Ilori allowing Dwight Gale so much room in the penalty area. Generally Reading don’t concede stunners, instead the overwhelming majority of goals conceded have been, from a defensive point of view at least, horror shows. That was the case yet again at home to QPR in midweek, and then all four West Brom goals in the last fixture. That may just be the most disappointing part of the awful performances and results; the awful goals being conceded. The Royals need to be more ruthless in attack, as well more ruthless in defence to snuff out chances.
Millwall rarely play without causing threats, and tactical problems. This season results haven’t quite gone their way. They can’t be full of confidence but may also not have the demons of last season hanging over them – a big issue for the Royals at present.
Another issue for Paul Clement is the injury to Saeid Ezatolahi during the international break. He is the only fresh injury at the point of writing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one or two others are missing on Saturday, such is the nature of this squad. David Meyler was fit enough to join up with the Ireland squad for their torrid two weeks, but didn’t play a part in either of their games. Despite a lack of match fitness, it’s likely that he’ll come in to play at the base of midfield. He’s the most like for like replacement and also comes with a wealth of experience. After international breaks there is the chance that due to travelling large distances to play for his national side, Leandro Bacuna may not be at his sharpest. He continued his good scoring run by scoring from the penalty spot over the weekend, but it’s not clear when he returned to training so we’ll have to wait and see. he will of course be confident given recent performances so may make himself fit anyway.
Two weeks without a game poses an interesting dilemma for managers under the cosh. It’s a chance to either refine the current formation/style/system, or to drum up a new idea. Personally I would like to see Clement persevere with three central midfielders, as Reading have shown better balance and tempo with three, rather than two with a more advanced player such as Baldock or Meite. It’s unclear whether Bodvarsson will be fit, and if he isn’t that is a real concern for me. Whilst the aerial ability of Yakou Meite is second to none in the squad, he is somewhat unrefined as a loan striker, with his hold up play nowhere near the standard of the Icelander. Baldock and McNulty aren’t used best as lone strikers in aerial battles, and won’t fare too well if academy product Jake Cooper is in the Millwall XI.
The Chris Gunter saga took an interesting turn this week when he didn’t start against Ireland. He’s been a mainstay in the Wales side for a long time, but as he closes in on 100 caps for his country, he was named on the bench against Ireland, a competitive fixture. He played at centre back against Spain and had a poor game. He’s been fortunate in that Tyler Blackett and Jordon Obita have been injured for large parts of this season, and Omar Richards seemingly not fancied by Paul Clement. He’s been lucky that Andy Yiadom has been asked to play at left-back and allow him to play. But this latest part of the story, might put an extra thought in Clement’s mind, with the option to play Blackett at left back and allow Yiadom to return to right back (a decision that would please myself and many other supporters. Sadly though, I don’t think Clement will elect to do this. With that in mind, this is my predicted lineup;
GK: Sam Walker
RB: Chris Gunter
CB: Tiago Ilori
CB: Liam Moore (c)
LB: Andy Yiadom
RM: Josh Sims
CM: Leandro Bacuna
CM: David Meyler
CM: John Swift
LM: Mo Barrow
ST: Jon Dadi Bodvarsson
I’m expecting another sluggish start, but think we may come good in the second half, so a 2-1 victory for me this weekend. Up the Biscuitmen!